When establishing a virtual team, or when moving between cultures for business, team composition diversity can present some difficulties for both new and experienced managers and team members.
In many cultures, principally those with a North America or European base, teams are typically made up of a group of experts and specialists, essentially a team of individuals, with some less experienced support personnel. Typically these team members expect, culturally, to be treated as individuals and recognised individually for their achievements and contribution to the outcomes of the project. They expect that their rewards, bonuses and career prospects will also be developed based on their personal value to the group.
In contrast, in large numbers of other cultures, principally Asian and South American, teams are made up of a group of complimentary workers who’s strength is their team work, many will still be experts in their fields, but they work more as a collective. Individuals in these teams see the performance of the collective as more important than the performance of an individual, and will often sacrifice their personal ambitions against the overall success of the group. These teams expect that their performance will be recognised collectively, and that their rewards and career prospects will depend as much on the overall performance of their team, as on their individual contribution.
Individual Challenges Of Team Composition Diversity
Team composition diversity can be a subtle, yet challenging phenomenon to adjust to when working across cultures. For those used to working in highly individualistic structures, the personal challenge of suppressing their personal identity to become part of a collective can be difficult to adjust to. It is not easy to go from being seen as an individual and rewarded as such to being seen as part of a group. Equally, for those moving from a collective society to a more individualistic one, the change can pose challenges in asserting their individuality and, feeling comfortable in expressing their personal views, rather than the considered views of the group.
Cross Cultural Challenges Of Team Composition Diversity
When working as a manager in a cross cultural environment, the challenges of team composition diversity mean that the manager must be able to lead using a number of different styles.
When leading a team of individualists, the global virtual team manager must be able to address the needs of each individual, to consider their personal needs and to tailor the way they lead to the expectations of these individuals. Even at a group level, the way meetings are run needs to consider the need these individuals have, to express themselves and feel they are contributing personally. With the collective side of their teams, these same leaders need to be able to lead groups who expect to be treated as collectives, to inspire and challenge them as a group to deliver the outcomes needed for the project.
Learning to get the most from a global virtual team, one made up of groups from different points along the individual versus collective continuum, is a challenging and exciting experience. Once the team leader has developed an understanding of the ways to get the best from each group, they are able to balance tasks so that each assigned task plays to the strengths of the group to which it is assigned. So tasks requiring a large amount of individualised effort would be assigned to members of the more individualistic teams, where tasks that require larger amounts of interaction and an overall group effort are sometimes better suited to members of the collective culture teams.
It can take a little time to get the balance right, but, once an understanding is reached by all parties, the possible outcomes can be extremely rewarding at both a business and individual level. It takes patience, open dialogue and a willingness to experiment from time to time, but it is worth while.
How Can We Help
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations establish and run high performing virtual teams, we combine extensive practical experience from decades of involvement in virtual teams with current real world academic research into the way members of virtual teams collaborate. Please contact us to discuss ways we can assist your business.
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